Escape to Prince Albert, the beating heart of the Karoo!

We’ve all experienced times when things just become too much and the need to jump off the never-ending hamster wheel of life is overwhelming. Well, I believe I’ve found the perfect antidote to modern day urban madness – it’s as simple as packing a bag of comfortable clothes and heading off for a few days to the middle of nowhere, also known as the Karoo hamlet of Prince Albert.
“Where?”, I hear you say.

The Swartsberg Hotel. An example of the wonderful Victorian architecture.
The Swartsberg Hotel. An example of the wonderful Victorian architecture.

“Prince Albert”, I repeat enthusiastically! It’s a charming Victorian style village in the heart of Karoo with a little over 1300 permanent residents, many of whom are artists, photographers and crafters. Dating back to 1762, it proudly displays its history and was voted the Western Cape’s town of the year in 2012.

I recently spent a couple of wonderful days there and was in awe of the civic pride and sense of community shown by absolutely everyone we encountered. From local artist and ceramicist, Sally Arnold, whose helpfulness and advice was invaluable and in whose delightful, colourful and comfortable Artist’s Cottage we stayed, to the lady who so knowledgably guided us on an interesting tour of the O for Olive factory and entertained us during the subsequent delicious olive tasting.

Delicious tasting at O for Olives
Delicious tasting at O for Olives

Prince Albert is undeniably a refuge for artists of all disciplines and around every corner you can find their handiwork.

In the main street, the standing remains of a copse of blue gum trees have been carved into an art installation of “The Burghers” (citizens), while the usually utilitarian 44 gallon drum ‘dustbins’ that service so many of our public areas have been  transformed into works of art by local residents and schoolchildren.

The Burghers of Prince Albert
The Burghers of Prince Albert

Along with the plethora of Victorian architecture, arts and crafts outlets, photographer’s studios and art galleries, Prince Albert is (surprisingly) also home to a magnificent Art Deco multipurpose performing arts venue, The Showroom Theatre.

The Showroom Theatre.
The Showroom Theatre.

As well as hosting an amazing offering of South Africa’s top musicians and entertainers, this beautifully appointed 140 seat venue also hosts a movie night every Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit  but after a glimpse of the stylish foyer through the glass entrance, I’m determined to return to catch a show.

Eating also seems to be an important pastime in Prince Albert as restaurants, coffee shops and cafes can be found around every corner. However, for the best duck breast and cherry pie ever, dinner amid the work of local artists at The Gallery Café is an absolute must. I salivate at the mere though of it … yum!

We also enjoyed an organic wine tasting at Fernskloof Cellar, just 18 km outside town (try their handcrafted 2013 Shiraz) and visited the local dairy for fresh farm milk and homemade cheeses and yoghurt.

Gays Dairy - Prince Albert
Gays Dairy – Prince Albert

Perhaps the only disappointment of our stay was The Red Bus Tour. Despite much hype, it seems to run only (very) intermittently and certainly didn’t during our stay. A pity.

Prince Albert is situated 70km from Outshoorn and can be reached either via the scenically beautiful Swartberg Pass (closed for repair when we went), or the magnificent Meiringspoort. Either way, you can be assured of stunning scenery and a fitting beginning and end to a memorable stay away from the madness of city life.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Vicki says:

    Swartberg Pass is only closed when they are working on it. We drove from Outshoorn to Prince Albert,(Easter Weekend) over the Swartberg Pass, had a lovely lunch and then returned via Meiringspoort. When we asked at the information place in Prince Albert about a route back – She told us the Swatberg pass is closed, we had just driven it!!!!!

    1. Thanks, Vicki. Actually it’s closed Monday to Friday from 8.00 to 17.00 (obviously excluding public holidays).

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